I have long loved to preach on what many in the church call “end times.”
Two primary reasons: 1) it is a great chance to correct what I perceive to be false teaching on the subject . . . namely, the Rapture-based eschatology made popular by the Left Behind series of novels, movies, and trinkets; and 2) it’s also an opportunity to help people think theologically about life, death, and the march of time.
Yesterday’s message on the part of the Apostles’ Creed that says from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead was especially fun for two additional reasons: 1) contrasting end times charts between “Left Behind” theology and the mainstream evangelical understanding that Good Shepherd embraces (thanks to James-Michael Smith & you’ll see them below) and 2) one of my favorite bottom lines/refrains: You won’t get away with what you got away with.
Here is a rough manuscript of what got said yesterday:
This might just be the Old School talk I’m looking forward to the most. You know why? Because it has my two favorite words in the entire creed! “Thence” and “quick.” Aren’t they great?! Now I didn’t grow going to church all that often as a kid, but when I did start going as a young adult and when I did start reciting the Creed as part of that experience I always loved saying that part even though I had no idea what it meant. But when and how else can you ever have a sentence with “thence” & “quick & the dead” in it?
So is it OK now that I am no longer a young adult if I remove the mystery from it? “Thence” means “there,” as in I came up to this platform from “thence down thar” where I was sitting. Or, in the case of Jesus & the creed, he’s is coming from “there in heaven” where he has been reigning. And “quick” means “living” as in inviting all people into a quick relationship with Jesus Christ.´ Or, in the case of Jesus & the creed, when he comes back from “there” (thence) he will judge the “living” (quick) and the dead. All of them all at once for all time. So at some unknown point in the future, at the end of all our tomorrows, Jesus will descend from heaven (where he’s been in charge whether we know it or believe it or not) and he will do so in the opposite fashion of his first coming. The first coming was in humility, hidden, powerless, as an infant. The next time will be in victory, unmistakable, in all power, and as a conquering king. That’s what this part of the Creed tells us: Jesus is coming back and it won’t be anything like that first advent. He’ll judge all of us all at once for all time.
Now: I haven’t told you what I’m going to tell you. Yet. That’s coming. But to get there, can I explain something to you? The fact that the Xn faith believes in an end, a resolution, beyond which we have only hints and shadows other than to know Jesus will rule and it will be good, is one of several separating points between Xnty and Eastern religions. Hinduism and Buddhism see time as endlessly cyclical – time reincarnates just like people do! – and the goal of human existence is to get off the cycle and be absorbed into the universe. Xnty sees a BANG at the beginning and a BIGGER BANG at the end.
Because look at 2 Thess 1:7b-10 where it begins with “this” (and in a few minutes I’m going to tell you what the “this” means!): This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.Now: can I point something out? To understand best what the bible means when it talks about the Second Coming – and after all, the Creed is a condensation of teachings from the bible – DON’T go to the book of Revelation. Only rarely is that book ever about that subject – it’s the book of Rev, not the book of Predictions as so many have turned it into. Instead, go to places like the one today in 2 Thess (as well as I Thess 4, 2 Peter 3) that teach on the subject with great clarity. And you can tell from the 2 Thess, can’t you, that Jesus is coming back secretly to take his church out of trouble and then coming back a 2nd (3rd) time 7 years later, right? Wrong! 2 Thess 1 lets us know he is coming back boldly, unmistakably: blazing fire, powerful angels, meting out punishment and doling out blessings (1:10). A lot of the conjecture you may have heard about church people being whisked away secretly before 7 years of tribulation and THEN he comes back flies in the face of what Scripture teaches. It’s so funny, I came across this chart someone drew up of the end times:
Well I got a chart, too!
Unexpected time, unmistakable way, and what we now believe by faith (Jesus rules) we’ll then see with our eyes. Why people spend so much time and money bringing confusion where the NT actually has clarity I’ll never understand.
Here’s one other thing you should know: many times people will tell you to “watch the signs” or “count the times” because you never know when we could be entering the “last days.” Well, look at Acts 2:17:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
What does Peter say we’re in? The last days! Ever since Spirit was given and the church was born we’ve been in the last days! God’s calendar is different from ours! We’re to live as if his return could be any day.
And I know what some of you are thinking because I think it myself: what in the world does this have to do with me? You SAY it could happen any day but I don’t really believe it. What in the world does all this have to do with my life today? I am so glad you asked! Remember the “this” that began the words in 2 Thess 1 and I said we were going to come back to it and explain what the “this” is? Now’s that time! Look at 1:5-7a:
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.
READ. So the central part of that return: Jesus comes as a judge. With a robe and a wig and sitting behind an enormous desk? Probably not. But there is this unmistakable pattern in the NT:
Acts 17:31: 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
Romans 2:16: This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Romans 14:10: For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
2 Corinthians 5:10: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Whew! We knew that he was Savior and Redeemer and Shepherd but now it’s clear that he has another title: Judge. And there’s no jury. Just the judge. And his appointment as the judge of all who are alive at his return and all who have died beforehand is due to the resurrection of the corpse. That’s his qualifications.
Now: there are two prongs to Jesus as judge. He will judge the world and those who have not claimed him as Savior. A lot of you may have hear horror stories about some great, final battle on the fields of Megiddo, which we moderns have said, “That’s the battle of Armageddon!” (Movie?) Get this: it won’t be a battle! It will be an execution! Satan will be vanquished and Jesus will be acknowledged as king. Some people are so scared of being caught up in some sort of last battle. Really? You believe Jesus made it all, you believe he rose from the dead and you have an ounce of doubt about how it all ends? Satan will get his and the fight will not be a fair one. And in the middle of all that – as part of all that? – people who are living when he returns and people who have been dead for centuries or millennia at his return will all have their time with the Lord. A final, public sentence. What have you done with me? Is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian?
Get this: think about how terrible it would be to almost win the lottery. Awful! And that’s what it’s like to almost be saved: to be regular in church, to know the drill, to be a good person, but not to have turned your will and your life over to the care of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s like almost winning the lottery. The reward: nothing. Crushing blow & the point of no return. I don’t want anyone hearing my voice to go through that when Jesus comes back to judge the quick and the dead.
But but but but. Wait wait wait. Look again at Romans 2:16, 14:10, and 2 Cor 5:10: READ. These are all to Christians now. People whose salvation is already assured. Which begs the question: why would we be judged when Jesus has already been judged for us? That’s the great exchange in Xnty, after all: Jesus gets the judgment that we deserve. It’s a great question and I am honestly on some dangerous terrain here because the bible has some different voices weighing in on the subject. But Ro 2:16 is especially instructive here: READ. It looks like – I think for saved and lost alike – there is a tremendous level of exposure at the moment of judgment. Deeds evaluated, secrets revealed, and the public evidence of your faith you had or didn’t have gets weighed. Now: I DON’T think it’s so much about levels of reward in heaven (the number of stars in your crown) but it IS about whether your time with Jesus the judge is more about regret or celebration.
He will shine a light on all those hidden places. He will uncover what has been buried. Even stuff you’d long forgotten, he’ll short remember. I think this is what it means, especially if you’re one of those who can’t see today’s relevance in the middle of tomorrow’s return: You won’t get away with what you got away with.
Think about that! Isn’t that the way we approach so much of our lives, especially the deception? It starts young, too. I remember being 6 or so and my mom’s car was parked in the driveway and I climbed in and started fiddling with the radio dials. Then I got out and scampered off to do whatever it is 6 year olds do. The next morning my mom’s car wouldn’t start – turns out the radio had been left on all night. “Talbot, did you have anything to do with the dials?” “Nope! Not 6 year old me!” And I got away with it! Not punished! But one day, for that – as well as a whole lot else and a whole lot worse – I’ll have to come clean with the one who loved me before the world began. I may have gotten away with it in 1968 but I won’t get away with it whenever Jesus comes back or I die, whichever happens first.
But we do this, don’t we? After car radios. Lies at work. And you get off scot free. Shade on your taxes. No one finds out. Flirtation at the office. He’s oblivious. She’s clueless. The uppers you take in the a.m. and the downers at night just to take the edge off. No will ever know. The racism that you just barely mask. No one knows. You’ve gotten away with it. No! When you realize that the Creed is not playing around, even with Xns, when it tells us Jesus will come back to judge the quick & the dead, you know you won’t get away with what you got away with. So you know what I recommend until then? Come clean. Shine a light on the dark places now . . . the “then” will be so much less painful. Find a confidante, a support group, a pastor so that you are able to say to the Lord, “no, I’m not deceiving myself into thinking I got away with it.” REFRAIN.
But you know what else? The bottom line is not just about the sins you’re hiding and the secrets you’re keeping. It’s on the positive side. Some of you have been living lives of such faithful anonymity that you wonder if anyone has been noticing. He has. That meal making you’ve done that you feel has been overlooked. REFRAIN. The notes of kindness and concern you’ve written on behalf of the church and no one ever writes back? REFRAIN. The special effort you make to talk with the one other talk about? REFRAIN. Get this . . . the time that guy or that girl was so available and you almost slipped your wedding ring off but DIDN’T? REFRAIN. The way you’ve resisted your same sex urges and instead of surrendering to your impulses you have surrendered them? REFAIN The ways you’ve smiled, gave out name tags and welcomed people to church and even into the kingdom? REFRAIN. When you’ve held a crying baby in the nursery and no one ever said “thank you”? REFRAIN.
Yeah, those hidden, overlooked deeds of discipline and mercy in the name of the Lord . . . you won’t get away with those! The judge of the quick and the dead, the lover of your soul, will look at those and give you the greatest of kudos: well done, good and faithful servant.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. You know what I say? Bring it on! What a day that will be, when our Jesus we shall see.